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The impact of high and growing government debt on economic growth: an empirical investigation for the euro area

  • Checherita-Westphal, Cristina
  • Rother, Philipp

This paper investigates the average impact of government debt on per-capita GDP growth in twelve euro area countries over a period of about 40 years starting in 1970. It finds a non-linear impact of debt on growth with a turning point—beyond which the government debt-to-GDP ratio has a deleterious impact on long-term growth—at about 90-100% of GDP. Confidence intervals for the debt turning point suggest that the negative growth effect of high debt may start already from levels of around 70-80% of GDP, which calls for even more prudent indebtedness policies. At the same time, there is evidence that the annual change of the public debt ratio and the budget deficit-to-GDP ratio are negatively and linearly associated with per-capita GDP growth. The channels through which government debt (level or change) is found to have an impact on the economic growth rate are: (i) private saving; (ii) public investment; (iii) total factor productivity (TFP) and (iv) sovereign long-term nominal and real interest rates. From a policy perspective, the results provide additional arguments for debt reduction to support longer-term economic growth prospects. JEL Classification: H63, O40, E62, E43

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Paper provided by European Central Bank in its series Working Paper Series with number 1237.

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Date of creation: Aug 2010
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Handle: RePEc:ecb:ecbwps:20101237
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  1. Thomas Laubach, 2003. "New evidence on the interest rate effects of budget deficits and debt," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2003-12, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  2. Schclarek, Alfredo, 2004. "Debt and Economic Growth in Developing and Industrial Countries," Working Papers 2005:34, Lund University, Department of Economics.
  3. David Alan Aschauer, 1997. "Do States Optimize? Public Capital and Economic Growth," Macroeconomics 9711007, EconWPA.
  4. Reinhart, Carmen M. & Rogoff, Kenneth, 2010. "Growth in a Time of Debt," CEPR Discussion Papers 7661, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
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  8. Colin Vance, 2006. "Marginal Effects and Significance Testing with Heckman’s Sample Selection Model: A Methodological Note," RWI Discussion Papers 0039, Rheinisch-Westfälisches Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung.
  9. Arne Risa Hole, 2006. "A comparison of approaches to estimating confidence intervals for willingness to pay measures," Working Papers 008cherp, Centre for Health Economics, University of York.
  10. Krugman, Paul, 1988. "Financing vs. forgiving a debt overhang," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 29(3), pages 253-268, November.
  11. Salvador Barrios & Per Iversen & Magdalena Lewandowska & Ralph Setzer, 2009. "Determinants of intra-euro area government bond spreads during the financial crisis," European Economy - Economic Papers 388, Directorate General Economic and Financial Affairs (DG ECFIN), European Commission.
  12. Elmendorf, Douglas W. & Mankiw, N, 1999. "Government Debt," Scholarly Articles 2643866, Harvard University Department of Economics.
    • Elmendorf, Douglas W. & Gregory Mankiw, N., 1999. "Government debt," Handbook of Macroeconomics, in: J. B. Taylor & M. Woodford (ed.), Handbook of Macroeconomics, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 25, pages 1615-1669 Elsevier.
  13. Reinhart, Carmen M. & Rogoff, Kenneth, 2009. "The Aftermath of Financial Crises," CEPR Discussion Papers 7209, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
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  15. Cohen, Daniel, 1993. "Low Investment and Large LDC Debt in the 1980's," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(3), pages 437-49, June.
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